Hormonal therapy for ovarian cancer
Hormonal therapy is sometimes used to treat ovarian cancer. It is a treatment that adds, blocks or removes hormones. Hormones are substances that control some body functions, including how cells act and grow. Changing the levels of hormones or blocking certain hormones can slow the growth and spread of ovarian cancer cells. Drugs, surgery or radiation therapy can be used to change hormone levels or block their effects.
You may have hormonal therapy to:
- treat some types of ovarian cancer when they are advanced or have recurred
- control cancer cells left behind after surgery (if you cannot have chemotherapy for some reason)
Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan your hormonal therapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Hormonal therapies used for ovarian cancer
The following are hormonal therapies used to treat ovarian cancer.
Luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists
LHRH agonists turn off estrogen production by the ovaries. They are used to lower estrogen levels in women who have not reached menopause (premenopausal). LHRH agonists include goserelin (Zoladex) and leuprolide (Lupron, Lupron Depot, Eligard).
Anti-estrogens block estrogen from getting to the cancer cell. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Tamofen) is an anti-estrogen that is used to treat ovarian cancer.
Aromatase inhibitors are drugs that block an enzyme called aromatase. Aromatase turns other hormones into estrogen in women who have gone through menopause (post-menopausal). Aromatase inhibitors lower the level of estrogen in post-menopausal women and include:
- letrozole (Femara)
- anastrozole (Arimidex)
- exemestane (Aromasin)
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for ovarian cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some women have many side effects. Other women have few or none at all.
If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after hormonal therapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after hormonal therapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of hormonal therapy will depend mainly on the type of hormonal therapy, the dose of a drug or combination of drugs, and your overall health. Some common side effects of hormonal therapy for ovarian cancer are:
- nausea and vomiting
- weight gain
- treatment-induced menopause
- joint and muscle pain
- hot flashes
- weakened and thinning bones (osteoporosis)
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from hormonal therapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Information about specific cancer drugs
Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
Questions to ask about hormonal therapy
Cancer affects all Canadians
Nearly 1 in 2 Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.